Project Pabst’s Playful Crowd Showed Up With Hula-Hoops, Inflatable Penis

Phantogram at Project Pabst in RiNo on May 20.
Phantogram at Project Pabst in RiNo on May 20. Brandon Marshall
Encountering masses of intoxicated young adults stumbling along Larimer Street between 27th and 28th streets isn’t all that uncommon on weekends — especially since that part of RiNo is packed with trendy bars including the Meadowlark, Cold Crush, Nocturne and Larimer Lounge.

The difference on Saturday, May 21, was that drunk people were given free rein of the road, with cars and traffic cops taken out of the equation because the area had been blocked off for Project Pabst, a music festival funded by the purveyors behind Pabst Blue Ribbon.

It was virtually impossible to forget, even for a second, who had put on the festival, which in its second year included headliners Ice Cube and Phantogram, as well as sets from Kurt Vile, Danny Brown, STRFKR and local bands.

click to enlarge Ice Cube headlined Project Pabst. - BRANDON MARSHALL
Ice Cube headlined Project Pabst.
Brandon Marshall
Well beyond the festival’s name (and ubiquitous $3 PBR tallboys), Pabst ensured that its logo and name were everywhere: on T-shirts, hats, beanies, armbands, glasses, one chick's pajamas, umbrellas and the fabric of a tent.

That’s not to mention the murals being live-painted that featured the brand’s mascot, a rabid-looking unicorn. In fact, in the middle of the festival was a thirty-foot-tall unicorn statue with a lit-up horn, which was like a corporate version of the “Blucifer” mustang statue outside of Denver International Airport.

click to enlarge BRANDON MARSHALL
Brandon Marshall
In front of PBR’s unicorn statue, twenty-somethings danced with hula-hoops during a set by Kurt Vile, whose stoner rock had a sea of millennials head-bobbing between sips of their tallboys (or puffs of their joints).

The scene in RiNo offered a stark contrast to activities going on in Five Points at the same time; a mere five blocks away, the free Five Points Jazz festival, in its fifteenth year, was dominated by a more diverse and family-oriented crowd. And about ten blocks away, volunteers were building a tiny-home village for the homeless.

click to enlarge BRANDON MARSHALL
Brandon Marshall
This kind of schizophrenia has become emblematic of the Five Points and RiNo neighborhoods as that part of the city undergoes rapid gentrification and change, and the Project Pabst festival suggests that even corporate brands based outside of Denver recognize how trendy the area has become.

Despite the heavy-handed branding, to Pabst’s (and promoter AEG’s) credit, Saturday's lineup was full of great, worthwhile performances — not only on the big stages, but inside the small brick-and-mortar venues like Larimer Lounge and Meadowlark, where local acts like Male Blonding and Felix Fast4ward fired up audiences.

click to enlarge BRANDON MARSHALL
Brandon Marshall
Also notable was the playfulness of the crowd and the seeming disconcern among organizers about enforcing anti-marijuana laws.

“It smells good up here!” remarked Phantogram’s Josh Carter during the band’s set.

Later, an inflatable penis served as a beach ball for the crowd. “Whose penis is that?” laughed Phantogram’s lead singer, Sarah Barthel, between songs. She then added, teasingly, “Prooooove it!”

When Ice Cube teed up the N.W.A classic “Fuck tha Police,” he used a tongue-in-cheek monologue. “Do you know what these motherfucking police told me backstage?” he shouted. “They told me what I can’t say…”

But the festival felt worlds away from the realities of South Los Angeles during the N.W.A era.

See photos of Project Pabst here.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker